Love and Hate and BPD
So you’ve met someone you like.
They have BPD.
Its not the end of the world!
You may have heard something about devaluation.
The word itself doesn’t have much meaning outside the context of what is going on inside someone with BPD.
Devaluation and idealisation stem from problems in early attachment and something called “object relations” which has nothing to do with being glued to your iphone or teddy bear (although the teddy bear could be a transitional object…but I digress).
what the hell is object relations?
Object relations is a theory which developed out of psychoanalysis to try to explain how early experiences shape our future. According to this theory we develop a set of ideas, images or internal “pictures” about the important people in our lives (usually our parents) - our “objects” during the first few months of life.
Parents, of course, can never be perfect (although we try) and infants will always be disappointed at least some of the time. Object relations theory tells us that an infant will at first be unable to integrate these disappointing or “withholding” aspects of the parenting figure with the “good” aspects (the good breast and the bad breast as theorist Melanie Klein describes it).
As the infant comes to expect satisfaction and to have her needs met over time, she will slowly learn to internalise a “good parent” who will be there even while the real parent is not. With “good enough” parenting, the infant eventually learns to integrate the good and bad aspects of the parenting figure, to tolerate ambivalence and to develop her own self-soothing capacity.
Sometimes though, parenting is not “good enough” or the infant is unable to tolerate even small disappointments. This leads to problems in integrating the good and bad aspects of the parent.
The disappointment and intense feeling states accompanying experiences of neglect (or abuse) are far too distressing for an infant to incorporate. They will be separated out and (if bad enough) will never be integrated.
In these circumstances, the developing child never learns to tolerate or accept their parents (and by extension) all people as being both good and bad - nurturing and disappointing, frustrating and accepting.
These early templates for relationship stay with us.
So what has all this got to do with BPD devaluation I hear you ask?
Well here goes:
BPD and Object Relations
People with BPD will normally have experienced intolerable failures in their early environment (i.e. their parents weren’t “good enough”).
Because they weren’t nurtured in the way they needed, people with BPD never learnt to integrate the good and bad aspects of their parents. They developed object relations “templates” that lead to polarisation (you are either “all good” or “all bad”).
They won’t be able to tolerate the disappointing aspects of friends, lovers, family members, workmates, teachers, employers (or therapists!) - anyone who is important to them and who, inevitably will let them down.
So when you cancel a date, miss their birthday, give them short shrift, choose a movie they hate, tell them you don’t like their cooking or criticise their haircut, they will react.
Even quite trivial things will trigger the polarisation that makes up their internal template and you may end up in their bad books without realising you have done anything wrong.
Suddenly, after being their closest friend, their favourite sister, the most wonderful partner or the best therapist in the world, you become the worst, the most disappointing - and the most hated.
It’s a bit bewildering.
They may be filled with rage at your lack of absolute acceptance or what they consider to be an intolerable mistake.
Underneath the rage, they will be intensely sad and hurt. They are still, at heart, that small neglected child looking for the unconditional acceptance and love they never received.
That doesn’t mean you need to provide them with never-ending and unconditional acceptance. That is unrealistic - especially in adult relationships. Just be willing to understand what is going on behind the devaluation.
If you have BPD, the only real solution to this problem is to develop a strong, therapeutic relationship in psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy will help you understand what is going on for you.
Therapy for BPD will allow you to slowly learn to tolerate the lapses and imperfections inherent in relationships through the “rupture and repair” process guided by your therapist. As your relationship with your therapist becomes closer, the therapist will be able to model good relationship skills, help you to understand what might be going wrong and encourage you to collaborate in restoring the relationship - something that will be rare outside the therapeutic space.
Your therapist will help you develop self-awareness, learn to trust yourself and others, and encourage you to withstand the ups and downs of sustaining a relationship over time - with all its confusions and hurts.
As you learn to manage this therapeutic relationship, you will find that you develop more tolerance for the inevitable lapses of friends and lovers as you (and they) work towards a closer and more fulfilling relationship - and a more meaningful life.